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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Liz Series Spiritual Growth The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

St. Hot Mess

 

St Hot Mess

“Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” -St. Catherine of Siena

St. Hot MessSt. Catherine of Siena’s famous quote is enjoying quite a heyday in Catholic art and media. It’s everywhere, from cute wall hangings on Etsy to your favorite Catholic Pinboard and the opening line of every other new blog post about self-confidence or finding personal fulfillment in one’s faith. The quotation, also rendered as “Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire,” encourages Catholics to honor the Lord by being no more and no less than our unique and individual selves, responding fully to God’s plan for our lives and changing the world in the process. It’s a beautiful, inspiring vision: a holy revolution of Christians who are assured of themselves and their God, marching forth to bring sweeping change to the societies around them.

But what if you’re not sure who God meant you to be? What if you struggle with God’s personal plan for you? What if the way you were created, so fearfully and wonderfully made, is obscured behind a mask of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, illness or grief? What if you actually kind of dislike the way you are or wish that you were more like someone else, someone healthy and happy?

Don’t wait to set the world on fire. Don’t wait for happiness or inner peace, for energy, healing, or health.

Change the world now.

“Easy for you to say,” I can hear you snarking. “I can’t even get out of bed in the morning, let alone ‘set the world on fire!’ I have none of the holy work ethic of a St. Catherine of Siena, none of the bubbling Christian joy of a Pope Francis, and absolutely zero of the heroic suffering of the early Christian martyrs. I’m grumpy and tired. I worry about everything. I’m depressed, I hurt, and I can’t even get my kids to change their clothes. Changing the world is for other people—not someone as broken as me.”

If St. Catherine’s “set the world on fire” doesn’t strike a chord, consider it another way.

In journalist Clare Boothe Luce’s 1952 anthology Saints For Now, the author Evelyn Waugh (himself a grouchy, snarky Catholic who struggled with mental illness) wrote this strikingly similar sentiment:

“We can invoke the help of the saints and study the workings of God in them, but if we delude ourselves that we are walking in their shoes, seeing through their eyes and thinking with their minds, we lose sight of the one certain course of our salvation. There is only one saint that ‘Bridget Hogan’ can actually become, St. Bridget Hogan, and that saint she must become, either here or in the fires of purgatory, if she is to enter heaven. She cannot slip through in fancy dress, made up as Joan of Arc.”

oscarwildeSo be the saint of anxiety, of clinical depression, of bipolar disorder. Be the saint who has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. The one whose house is dirty, whose arms and legs and heart ache, who needs extra naps and drinks pots of coffee and takes meds. Be that saint by asking God to sanctify your unique and individual struggle. You may not have the get-up-and-go of St. Catherine, but your sanctity might be found in completing a simple household chore for the good of your family or whispering out a prayer from that bed you can’t get out of. You might not be a ray of Christian sunshine, but you may change the world by bringing the Gospel to others stuck in the dark. You may never have all the peace, or energy, or health you want in this life, but your personal sainthood might be achieved in the truly heroic witness it takes to live for Christ day by day from the cross of mental illness.

Don’t wait. Don’t wait on any earthly thing. If God in his mystery allowed your life to be chaotic, set the world on holy fire with your own hot mess.

Be who God meant you to be, with all the strengths and weaknesses he bestowed on you and all the brokenness Christ died to make beautiful. You, St. Hot Mess, are the only saint you’ll ever have a shot at being. So don’t wait to be someone else. Change the world now.

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

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Wannabe


I admit readily that I am and always have been a wannabe. I became aware of this fact about five years ago, when I was still a single mother of five, working up to 14 hours a day in a physically, psychologically and emotionally demanding job as a nurse while going to church two to three times a week.
At the end of one particularly difficult shift at work, I went home to enjoy a very aggravating evening with my children, which included three teenagers, one of whom was determined to make me either a saint or a criminal with his behavior. Later that night, I was lying in my bed after I had prayed and I was dwelling on the fact that I just wasn’t happy with anything that I did. I felt I could be a better nurse, a better mother and most certainly, a better Catholic. As I took a few laps in my pool of self-pity, I dwelt on the reasons for my lack of satisfaction in all areas of my life.

Was it because I had a parent whom never had praise for me?

Was it because I was just an average person destined for a lifetime of mediocrity?

I can not say that I came to a conclusion that night, but in the last year or so I have figured out why I’m a wannabe. I’m a wannabe because I should be one! Seriously, can any one of us look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, yes-I am the best (fill in the blank) that I can be?

Do we honestly spend as much time in prayer and instructing our children how to be good Catholics as we should? I know I don’t! It doesn’t help to have an unenthusiastic audience, but that is no excuse. Several years ago, my teenage son Daniel, in one of his ornery moods, asked me why I made him go to weekly Adoration and Sunday Mass when he didn’t want to go. I narrowed my eyes, hoping I was administering a piercing look of earnestness, and in my most serious “listen up child, this is important” voice I told him,

‘One day I will stand before the throne of God and I do not want Him to tell me that every Sunday I ALLOWED my child to commit a mortal sin and now I have to pay for my culpability because, while I had the power to prevent the sin, I did not! My first obligation is to save my soul; my second obligation is to do everything in my power to make sure that YOU have the tools to save yours.’

I told him that I would drag him out of the house kicking and screaming before I would allow him to commit one mortal sin.

He never again asked me to let him skip Sunday Mass. I don’t know if he found the idea of being physically dragged out of the house by his mother totally demeaning or if he actually understood the wisdom of what I said (That’s my hope!). I’m thinking it may be the latter because a few weeks ago he called and asked me to help him find out when and where Mass is celebrated on the base he is stationed.

I’ve read the lives of many saints and not once have I come across a saint who believed they were good enough for God. How true! We can always find another fault in ourselves, however insignificant the world deems it. I’m not referring to beating oneself up over things over which one has no control, I refer to aspects of ourselves which we have the power to change such as actions, thoughts and words we speak. I truly believe that is the path to sanctity, not just eliminating the mortal and venial sins from our lives but the imperfections that lead to those sins.

In the past I have carried the arrogance of believing that no one should have have the gall to expect me to change, if I wasn’t good enough for them; they could take a hike. On the contrary, I now believe that if someone truly loves me, they will want me to become a better person, in as many ways as possible. Having a spouse or family members that encourage our growth spiritually is especially a blessing! So now, I am satisfied to be a wannabe because I know that desire to always be better will serve both me and others well in all areas of my life-as a mother, a Catholic, a wife, a nurse and a friend.